“I was brought up in the middle of London, in the formality of the Windsor Court,” Victoria Stone told us recently, when she visited Sydney for a screening of her latest documentary The Elephant Queen.
Meeting Victoria Stone, Windsor Court is furthest from our mind. She has spent more than 30 years in Africa, bringing up her children there and making a successful career out of nature documentaries.
“I was trying to work out what I wanted to do,” she recalls about her career trajectory. “It must have been the beginning of the environmental movement and I was desperate to do something that I believed in.”
Initially working on underwater films with her life partner Mark Deeble, the pair were invited to work on nature documentaries in Africa and have never looked back, most recently completing their first feature length film, The Elephant Queen, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was snapped up globally for the soon to launch Apple TV+ streaming service.
“How else could so many people across the world potentially fall in love with elephants?” Stone asks rhetorically. “For us, it’s a dream partner, we’re users of Apple products, so it was like, ‘this fits rather nicely’.”
Shot in Kenya, The Elephant Queen follows 50-year-old elephant matriarch Athena as she leads her family across the African plains searching for a new home after the water hole that an entire ecosystem relies on, dries up following prolonged drought.
Unlike a certain remake, The Elephant Queen is 100% actual live footage captured by Stone, Deeble and their skeletal crew over numerous years. The resulting film contains an emotional narrative arc that will engross adults and children alike.
“We want to make a film that reaches the broadest possible audience,” says Stone.
Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor [“we wanted someone who had a resonance and could tell a story as if you were gently sitting around the campfire and were being told the story”], The Elephant Queen explores the minutiae of the elephant’s world, finding the emotional life of the mammoth creature.
“We wanted to tell a story of how elephants are the architects of their environment, Stone tells us. “They create the environment for all of the little guys [dung beetles, birds, frogs, etc]. We wanted to make a film that would both engage on a small animal level and have the stars being the elephants. We could see how the story could mix that kind of cast of animals and that if you were going to do a feature length film you needed that mix of characters.”
This thinking extended to the type of documentary they were making. “We did think, ‘should we be making a film that deals with the issues?’” she says about the obvious environmental and poaching implications of the subject matter. “But there were other filmmakers who stepped in to do that, and we just thought, ‘What we can do best in the way we work, is to make the world fall in love with them, and share an intimacy’. If you make an issue-based film, they’re important, you use them politically, but they tend to come and go. Whereas this, we hope will be a film that will cause lots of people to keep falling in love with elephants.”
The Elephant Queen will be available on Apple TV+, coming this Spring.